The general management firm of Gatchell & Neufeld loomed large over the musical comedy business, on Broadway and the road, for more than 20 years. Their roster included such titles as No, No Nanette, Jesus Christ, Superstar, Annie, Sweeney Todd, Evita and Cats. R. Tyler Gatchell Jr., the outgoing one, died of a heart attack in 1993 at the age of 50, resulting in the almost immediate withdrawal of Peter Neufeld from the business. (If that was the end of Gatchell & Neufeld, their top-notch assistants — Nina Lannan and Wendy Orshan, respectively — each set up their own office and have dominated the Broadway general management business since.)
A look at the world of professional show business of that era comes in "For the Good of the Show: A Memoir" by Peter Neufeld [Impress Group]. Which, I must say, is quite a book. A picture of the business, yes, with numerous eye-opening anecdotes; but also a candid self-portrait of what I suppose you might call a tortured soul. Neufeld, who loved the musical theatre since he was a child, tells us he realized he was different from the others when he was seven but didn't admit to himself that he was gay — despite myriad evidence — until he was 32. After which he kept it hidden from friends and family until 1990, when he was 52.
All of this doesn't have much to do with life on Broadway, of course; but in some ways it has everything to do with it. For Neufeld, the hidden secret was debilitating: His inability to admit his true self to anyone for well over half a lifetime prevented him from forming true and honest friendships, and kept him from enjoying anything (except, perhaps, musical comedy). Neufeld's own personal form of Hell, it seems, was having to walk through the chorus boy dressing rooms (which for a manager is a necessarily frequent occurrence); 40 years later, he even goes so far as to recall the boys in No, No Nanette by name. For Neufeld, it was decades of self-imposed "don't ask, don't tell, don't look."
Neufeld is not a natural writer, but he has something provocative to say and the results are compelling. From all appearances, his purpose is only partly theatrical; he seems to feel that this detailed tale of his troubled times will help others who might struggle with similar issues. The discussion is also illuminating to readers who've never had cause to give a thought to such matters. I have known Peter since 1971, never working together but — as fellow managers — often consulting each other on such mundane matters as "how much did you pay so-and-so?" (We had adjacent offices for years, so I frequently drifted in — usually to talk to Tyler.) Peter was always nice, friendly and gentlemanly. In "For the Good of the Show," he reveals that his demeanor was a mask hiding shame and pain, which leaves me terribly sad for him.
Neufeld finally came to terms with himself in 1990; in his typically meticulous fashion, he drew up a list of friends and close business acquaintances and contacted them individually, feeling the need to relay his news and apologize for what he saw as dishonest and evasive behavior. Three years later, Tyler died — shocking us all — and Peter closed the office. He soon found a cause to bring personal meaning to his life, throwing his revitalized energies into Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For the next decade, Peter was a tireless worker; his many years in the highest echelons of corporate Broadway — and his close relationships with performers, writers and directors — provided instant access that greatly enhanced the fund-raising reach of the organization.
The happy ending has proven to be not so happy. Neufeld developed Parkinson's Disease in 1997, which eventually turned severe. After years of raising money for the Actors Fund, Neufeld in 2006 moved to the Actors Fund Home, in Englewood, NJ, where he has been receiving exceptional care in comfortable and friendly surroundings. "For the Good of the Show" has been a long-term project, having been in the works for more than ten years. The book is presently available through www.broadwaycares.org/store and should soon be carried by major online retailers.
(A personal note for friends and acquaintances of Peter: cards and hellos are appreciated. People who have spent their careers in the business should keep in mind that the Actors' Fund is always there, "providing programs and services for those who are in need, crisis or transition." Visits from friends — and entertainment from current-day performers — are always welcome, and do make a difference in the quality of life of the residents. Those interested in going out to Englewood to entertain Broadway folk like Peter Neufeld can contact Paul Riedel (firstname.lastname@example.org, 212.221.7300 x104).
Publishers continue to turn out book after book about Judy Garland, which I suppose makes more sense than giving us a coffee table tome about Eva Puck. The latest offering is "Judy: A Legendary Film Career" by John Fricke [Running Press]. This is a handsome book, filled with 500 illustrations (some in color) and weighing in at a hefty four pounds. Mr. Fricke, who has been telling us about Garland on page, screen, and liner note for years now, builds his tale around Garland's movie projects, giving us all sorts of information about each — including reviews, comments from people involved, etc. It is all very colorful, and tells us much of what we want to know.
I, personally, am no expert on all those books — in print and out — about Garland, so I cannot offer an informed comparison. "Judy: A Legendary Film Career" looks pretty good to me, and I suppose it makes a fine overview for someone who doesn't already have numerous Garland books on their shelves (including Fricke's own "Judy Garland: World's Greatest Entertainer"). My guess is that hardcore Garland fans who already know it all — and there are a lot of them around — might look at this unquestionably attractive book and think, yes but tell me something I don't already know. But if you don't have a shelf of Garland, this book offers a good — and colorful — view of her career.
In the playscript department come two new items. "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire [Theatre Communications Group] is intelligent and provocative, and makes for excellent reading. (I'd wager it's more effective if you happen to have Frances McDormand around to speak Margie's lines to you.) The Manhattan Theatre Club production had a strong subscription run at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre last spring; if scheduling problems had not intruded, I expect it would still be packing them in just now. Ms. McDormand won herself a Tony Award, and Good People won the 2011 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. (I did not vote for it myself, as it happens, but that's another discussion.)
The newest entry to the Applause Libretto Library is "13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical" by Jason Robert Brown, Dan Elish and Robert Horn. This teenaged musical had a rough time of it in 2008 on Broadway, where it seemed somewhat out of place, but it has had a happier afterlife on the stock and amateur circuit.
On the sheet music front, Alfred Publications has brought us several new folios, headed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's Catch Me If You Can. The spring musical, which recently closed after a disappointing run, has plenty to recommend it. The Wizard of Oz: Andrew Lloyd Webber's New Stage Production also has plenty to recommend it, including old favorites like "Over the Rainbow," "If I Only Had a Brain" and more. Along with the songs by the great Harold Arlen and the great Yip Harburg, this new Oz includes seven by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. On a single playthrough, I expect that the Arlen-Harburg songs will outlast the others. An unexpected arrival comes in the form of songs from the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill animated television special Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Unexpected, yes; I never thought we'd find this score in print. Styne and Merrill were sitting on their heels waiting for their Fanny Brice musical to go into production at the time they wrote this opus. And no, the seven selections in the folio don't sound anything like Funny Girl.
I've had the most fun with The William Finn Songbook, which contains "23 songs hand-picked by the composer himself." And what a list! "All Fall Down," "And They're Off," "Anytime (I Am There)," "I'd Rather Be Sailing," "Love Me for What I Am," "That's Enough for Me," "Unlikely Lovers." Plus, as they say, many many more. "I try to write big, bravura (even messy) songs, that are often funny and serious at the same time. . . if it's a choice between a quiet lovely lyric and a raucous, hilarious one, I'll often choose the latter, even when I shouldn't." This from Finn, in his foreword. What more can I say?, to quote the title of another favorite of Finns and mine. (Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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